Studying at college or a university could open doors to your dream course and your chosen career. Of course, studying at college doesn’t come cheap, by any yardstick. There’re all sorts of fees to pay. Broadly speaking, tuition fees and dorm fees cost a lot.
However, there’re other expenses related to studying at a college.
Some of these expenses start right before you actually join a college. And one of these expenses is college application fees. In simple terms, an application fee is an amount of money that you pay at a college or university while submitting your forms and requesting a seat at the course of your choice.
There are some universities and colleges with no application fees. However, some of the topmost universities have such a fee and if you wish to apply, you need to pay.
At the same time, there’re various ways and means to avoid paying these application fees to a college or university. If you’re planning for higher education at any of the best colleges and universities in the USA, it’s worth knowing the application fees and a few ways to apply to colleges for free.
Understanding College Application Fees
Before we know how to apply to colleges for free, let’s see why colleges charge an application fee. That would help to understand a part of the application process and the reasons for this fee.
According to Pew Research, some 4.9 million students apply to the nearly 4,000 public and private colleges and universities across the USA. This figure includes the nearly 1.1 million foreign students that seek admission at colleges and universities in the US, says Pew Research.
According to Statista.com, There are 14.66 million in public colleges and universities and 5.15 million in private colleges and universities as of May 2022.
Considering that the US is home to some 4,000 colleges and universities that receive about 4.9 million students per year, it becomes clear that colleges don’t really make money from application fees. If we divide the number of students by colleges and universities, it works to just about 1,000 students each, which isn’t a significant number anyways for any educational institution to earn money.
Reasons to Charge Application Fees
As a matter of fact, most colleges waive the application fee and offer free application facilities to students that meet certain criteria. However, there’re also some strong reasons why some colleges charge an application fee.
1. Seriousness of Student
First and foremost, research by US news reveals that each student applies to an average of 14 colleges and universities every year. However, on a broader national level, every student applies to at least 5.9 colleges and universities every year.
That’s because they give preferences to colleges or universities that are top choices in the field, followed by those where they could get a better chance of being selected for the course.
If college admissions were free, these numbers would shoot up exponentially, with each student most likely to apply for at least 50 colleges and universities- meaning one in each state of the US.
Such high volumes of applications pose a major hurdle to all educational institutions. Because they simply wouldn’t have the necessary manpower and other resources to vet each application on its merit.
When colleges charge an admission fee, they ensure that only students serious about studying there would apply. Or at least, they expect so.
2. Admissions Require Human Intelligence
Secondly, there’re no known systems in the US that allow colleges and universities to automatically assess a candidate. Though the application process is online, it needs persons to check them and approve or reject them. That means, every college has to either pay its own staff to assess these applications or, they have to outsource the process to some qualified agencies.
Regardless of whether colleges and universities ask their own staff to check each application or hire others, the process does cost dearly. And someone has to bear these costs. A part- I repeat- just a part of these expenses could be covered by the application fees that a college charges. That’s because they hire outside agencies in most cases to assess applications.
We also have to bear in mind that not every student that’s a selector approves for admission, and actually joins the college. In fact, most students get admissions where they want and hence, a considerable chunk of all applications and their processes are wasted.
3. Operating Costs
Remember that colleges and universities also have operating costs. It’s not a simple process to upload an admission form and await applications from students. There’s a complex process involved in such an operation.
Furthermore, colleges also need to ensure their admission portals are safe from hackers and phishers. This involves extra security.
When you pay application fees to a college, you’re also paying for that extra security that you get from identity thieves and other hackers. Your admission forms contain a lot of information that could be useful for identity theft.
Surely, you would like such data to be secure for every reason. Obviously, every college has secure Internet systems and databases. At the same time, they also have to ensure there’s no leakage of your personal information at the time of accepting applications.
What Does This Mean?
The above three points will actually prove that majority of colleges barely make any money through the fees they charge when you apply. As a matter of fact, some colleges even lose money in processing a student’s application.
As I said earlier, not every student that gets selected necessarily joins that particular college or university. Furthermore, a lot of colleges don’t even charge admission fees because they could lose money in terms of bank transfer fees and other related expenses.
Since applications are always in bulk, you can imagine how much money a college or university could lose in terms of banking charges. Of course, a lot of colleges and universities aren’t required to pay these banking charges, but others have to.
Whichever way that we look at these application fees, a college or university doesn’t actually make any profit. And at the same time, they’re willing to waive this application fee too, if a student merits it. This means you can apply to colleges for free.
If you’re among those who wish to avoid paying these application fees, continue reading. I will explain in detail, the different ways that you can apply to colleges for free.
Ways to Apply to Colleges with No Application Fee
There’s a lot of debate over colleges waiving application fees from students. In fact, news reports also show that some very prominent personalities have stepped in and paid application fees for several students, especially those coming from cash-strapped families.
However, these are usually one-off cases or even rare in some places. Therefore, you could try any of these three ways to apply to colleges for free.
1. Free Admission Weeks
Every college holds a free admission week in various cities. During this period, you can easily apply for the college of your choice as well as other options, without paying any application fees.
The dates and venues for such free admission weeks depend and differ in every state. Hence, you would have to be alert for such notices.
Usually, college and school notice boards will show you the date, time and venue of such free admission weeks. Nowadays, you can also refer to the college website and get these details easily.
Every college has its own schedule. Furthermore, they have different admission processes too. Find all details of these processes to apply for colleges for free.
2. Cash-Strapped Families
If you come from a family that’s cash-strapped or living with minimum wages, it’s possible to get a waiver of the college application fee. This also applies to families where income has dipped or ceased due to the economic recession caused by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.
All colleges and universities in the US take a lenient view of economically weaker families and waive as many fees as they can to make studies possible.
However, in such cases, the student has to ask the course counsellor or college admin for the application fee waiver. It’s worth remembering that a fee waiver is not something that you would get automatically or even as a matter of right because you come from a cash-strapped family.
The decision to grant the application fee waiver lies with the counsellor who has to follow certain guidelines set by the college.
3. Scholarships and Foreign Students
Generally, all colleges waive application fees if you’re on a scholarship from any American or foreign educational organization, recognized trust or charity. However, you would have to prove that you have been awarded the scholarship.
That means, a letter stating that you have got the scholarship from the sponsoring organization containing details such as the total scholarship amount and other add-ons.
Foreign students applying at universities in the US are usually given an application fee waiver because of visa considerations. Often, a student given admission for a specific course might not get a visa to study in the US.
Due to visa rules, there’re no guarantees that any student given admission by an American college or university would be able to actually arrive in the country and study. Therefore, colleges and universities often grant application fee waivers to such applicants.
Here, it’s worth knowing that these are the only three surest ways to apply to colleges for free. Therefore, consider these facts before you send out applications to several colleges. The state of North Carolina usually doesn’t charge application fees from students for its colleges and universities.
Colleges with Highest Application Fees in the USA
A survey by US News finds that Stanford University has the highest application fee anywhere in the USA. They charge a solid $90 per application, from a student. Then there are a few others too.
I will list them for your reference.
- Stanford University, California: $90.
- Duke University, North Carolina: $85.
- Columbia University, New York: $85.
- Yale University, Connecticut: $80.
- Harvard University, Massachusetts: $75.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology $75.
- University of Chicago, Illinois: $75.
- University of Pennsylvania: $75.
- California Institute of Technology: $75.
- Northwestern University, Illinois: $75.
- John Hopkins University: Maryland: $70.
- Princeton University, New Jersey: $70.
These are the colleges and universities in the USA where the application fee is the highest. As we can see, all these colleges and universities are among the topmost in the world.
Holding a degree from these colleges can open doors to an amazing career. However, you can also get free application facilities by using any of the three ways that I described earlier in this article.
Now, let us look at the top colleges in the USA where you actually don’t need to pay any application fee. While they don’t charge an application fee from students, these colleges and universities have a very high standard of education too.
Colleges with No Application Fees
Every year, Niche publishes a list of colleges that have some of the best facilities in the US. These include everything from colleges with the best dorm facility in the US to the best food in the country. As a matter of fact, their rankings are responsible in many ways for colleges and universities to upgrade their facilities.
All these colleges are rated independently by students. In fact, Niche uses student ratings for ranking colleges in their independent reviews and listings. Their ranking is considered the best in America and used by students and their parents as well as college and university faculty.
- Colby College, Waterville, Maine.
- Grinnell College, Grinnell, Indiana.
- Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
- Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
- Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.
- Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
- Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas.
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts.
- Reed College, Portland, Oregon.
- Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts.
- Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota.
- United States Military Academy at Midpoint, New York.
- Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
- St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.
- Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
- Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan.
- St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.
- Denison University, Granville, Ohio.
- Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana.
- Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee.
- Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
- Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas.
- University of Dayton, Ohio.
- Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon.
- The University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.
- LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas.
- Drake University, Des Moines, Indiana.
- Milwaukee School of Engineering, Wisconsin.
- Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minnesota.
- Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.
- College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio.
- Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
- Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.
- Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin.
- College of Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri.
- John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio.
- Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
- Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
- Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Sewanee- The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.
- DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.
- Unites States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York
- DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois.
- Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut.
- Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio.
- Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida.
- Luther College, Decorah, Indiana.
- Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois.
- The University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania.
According to Niche, these are the colleges with no application fees. As you can see, some of these colleges and universities rank among the best in the USA. Therefore, you can apply for these safely.
You could get all information about these colleges and their admissions at the websites of these universities. Hence, you can apply free to these colleges and universities.
Costs Related to Applications
Before you apply for these colleges for free, it is better to bear in mind that there’re other out-of-the-pocket expenses that you would have to bear. These include expenses on tests that are unavoidable.
These tests include:
- Scholastic Aptitude Test.
- Test of English as Foreign Language (for foreign students only)
- Pearson English Test.
- American College Test.
- Graduate Record Examination.
- Law School Admission Test.
- Medical School Admission Test.
- Graduate Management Admission Test.
- Optometry Admission Test.
Obviously, all these tests are not necessary for all students. You would have to only show scores for the tests that the college wants. Therefore, it’s best to check with each college about these tests. In some cases, the SAT has also been waived off.
Value to Apply for Colleges for Free
And finally, before applying for colleges for free, I would suggest that you consider some important issues. As you could see from my list of 50 top colleges that offer free application facilities, several US states aren’t even covered.
Therefore, you could consider applying at a local college or university in your city and state, before trying elsewhere, unless you have some strong reasons. Though such colleges might charge some application fees, it might prove worth the while because you wouldn’t have to relocate to another state for higher studies.
The above facts prove that colleges don’t make any money from application fees from students. And the reasons they collect such fees are justifiable. Therefore, you can decide on which colleges to apply to.